TWO INJURIES and the release of a player meant 76ers coach Brett Brown had only 10 players at his disposal last night against the visiting and struggling Toronto Raptors. The team had released JaVale McGee, and both Robert Covington (elbow) and Jason Richardson (wrist) were sidelined after getting hurt in Indiana on Sunday.
Though the Raptors were riding a five-game losing streak and were playing without All-Star guard Kyle Lowry (rest), they had a lot more firepower than the Sixers in earning a 114-103 win to improve to 38-22. The Sixers dropped to 13-47 with their eighth loss in 10 games.
The Sixers used their 27th different starting lineup of the season and had a lot better showing than they did in Indiana on Sunday at the offensive end. They shot 41-for-78 (52.6 percent) and dealt 32 assists. Defensively, though, they struggled.
DeMar DeRozan torched the Sixers for 35 points, including 10-for-10 from the line, nine rebounds and five assists, and former Sixer Lou Williams got 21 of the team's 54 bench points.
"Our pick-and-roll and movement in just getting off the ball was pretty good tonight," Brown said. "That volume of assists for 41 shots [made] and to have 32 of them be assisted is a good number."
Brown also got a big boost from his bench, as Ish Smith led the team with 19 points and dealt nine assists, and Thomas Robinson collected 13 points and five rebounds in 15 minutes. Nerlens Noel made all seven of his shots for 17 points and also had seven boards. But they couldn't overcome the Raptors, particularly DeRozan and Williams.
"We didn't have Robert and we didn't have J-Rich, but we had the bigger wings and our normal team environment available. But they are such a great isolation team," Brown said. "They have elite scorers, individual scorers. I feel like if we had more that we could throw at them, it may be better off. In general, the smaller guards [Isaiah Canaan and Smith] we have to do some stuff to cover that."
With an ever-changing roster, it's the same story for Brown trying to mix and match whatever is available to him. Stability doesn't seem to be something he can rely on right now, except when you look at the play of Noel, who has scored in double figures in eight of his past nine games and is playing at a much more physical level.
"He has to go [to the rim] to mean it," Brown said of Noel. "You are not getting graded on circus shots. You have to go, because he can. He's so gifted. Right hand, left hand. And he's quick off the floor. He gets to the rim quick. All those types of things, along with the free throws, we're seeing him get better and better. I'm so proud of his evolution and development. He's really starting to grow as a leader outside of what we see on the court."
During their five-game losing streak, the Raptors hadn't scored more than 100 points. It was the fifth time in the past seven games that the Sixers have allowed more than 100 points.
"They are a great one-on-one team and they do a great job of isolating," Noel said. "I thought that we should have done a better job in isolation defense and rotation. They're a veteran team that hit tough shots. Our defense wasn't up to par."
Though Smith has seemed to slide more easily into the lineup than Canaan so far, Brown stuck with starting Canaan, even though he pulled him in favor of Smith to start the second half on Sunday in Indiana.
"Because of different situations and none more important than Isaiah is sort of our guy," Brown said of his decision to start Canaan, who finished with 14 points. "Contractually, he's more aligned with us, and he's younger. Ish historically has come off the bench, and he's a great sparkplug off the bench. I'm going to start Isaiah. I think if you had to go win an NBA game right now and had to come out of the gate swinging, you'd probably go with Ish, because he's an experienced NBA player. I just think that the stage that we are at [is] where I can get the best of both worlds. I can grow Isaiah; we can still bring in Ish quick if it's not going well, and I can get Ish with a really young second team that needs his guidance."
The Sixers waived JaVale McGee before midnight Sunday after acquiring him at the trade deadline. The center played six games with the Sixers. His $12 million salary will be counted against the Sixers' cap next season.
"The move was done more because it was the right thing to do, we felt, to give him the opportunity to go and play with a playoff team," Brown said. "I personally think that, although my time with JaVale was for a second, he was maligned. He came in and he was a hell of a teammate. He did nothing wrong. The move is to have him continue on to find a playoff team was done completely out of trying to do the right thing for him. We're going to move on with younger guys, and we didn't want to wait any longer and hurt his opportunity to go play with a playoff team."
On Twitter: @BobCooney76